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Technology Changing Cinematography And Film Production

New cameras, motion capture and virtual reality are contributing to new ways to shoot and distribute films.

Films such as The Hobbit, X-Men Apocalypse and Transformers: Age of Extinction have one thing in common – they were all shot on a range of cameras that began as nothing more than a “bread box” as an early prototype.

Made by Red Digital, this wooden box in 2006 contained one of the first 4K sensors at the time and would be used later to shoot some of Hollywood’s blockbuster movies. Today, the company’s cameras can capture images at up to 8K resolution, sharper than any TV screen at home and promising superior image quality.

The story of Red Digital mirrors the disruption and opportunity that technology has brought to the world of cinematography and film production. At the same time, more interactive experiences such as virtual reality (VR) are also promising to revolutionise the way media is consumed.

News outlets are increasingly making use of 360 video to tell a story. For example, a recent report on the devastation in war-torn Iraq shows the ravages of war first-hand. Viewers follow a reporter as he travels down a road towards a burning oil field. They can look all around the scene to survey the damage unlike any report could provide previously.

Telling a story, ultimately, is still the most important element, say filmmakers. If the technology is used just to show off, then audiences won’t be impressed.

“VR and 360 are great but the filmmaker still has to have control of the focus in some instances to direct the attention of the audience to tell a better story,” said veteran TV producer Lawrence Ng. “So, some experiences will be great for 360 while others might be better in a traditional 2D setting.”

At the same time, audiences are also changing the way films are being made. Engaging the audience is even more important today, with changing habits and viewing patterns.

Singapore-based production company BananaMana Films did just that when its digital series – Perfect Girl – starting showing on Netflix last year. The award-winning series about a coming-of-age romance consists of 10 episodes, with a total running time of just under 67 minutes, which is perfect for a streaming TV audience.

More importantly, BananaMana has hit on a niche audience which many in the industry had not thought possible. The company’s co-founders Christian Lee and Jason Chan believed there was a market for English-language Asian content, and they were proved right after initially being turned away by global distributors.

All in, they spent S$1,000 to make Perfect Girl, with Chan writing and starring in the show himself. Today, besides Netflix, it has been shown on Viki, another streaming service headquartered in the United States. It is still getting distribution deals today.

“It’s absolutely essential to leverage technology to get your film made. Most cameras now can film in such high quality that many industry people will have trouble distinguishing between a $2,000 or a $50,000 camera,” said Chan.

The company’s most recent film, Jimami Tofu, was shot in 4K on a Sony a7sII digital SLR camera and cut on two five-year-old iMacs. The team did all the audio post themselves and Chan composed the music in Logic and when they screened it privately to an industry audience. “We had an amazing reception,” he said.

“The digital revolution has levelled the playing field in that anyone can make films with a certain degree of technical polish. Social media has also allowed filmmakers to find an audience globally and grow it. There are much fewer barriers to getting into the industry,” he noted.

“Of course this has also eaten into profit margins from the traditional platforms so there are challenges there. However, for filmmakers like us it is an exciting time because everything is possible with just a spare room, a couple of computers and some mirrorless cameras,” he added.

“It really comes down to your ability to tell stories and that’s exciting. Technology has empowered us to be able to tell stories and reach the world with them.”

The annual BroadcastAsia show, Asia’s top trade event for the broadcast, media and entertainment industry, will gather the experts, professionals and practitioners in the region in one place over three days. Highlights include the opportunities that technology is bringing to cinematography and film production. Red Digital Cinema is participating in the exhibition to showcase the company’s latest range of digital cinema cameras. The Post Production Hub, held alongside the exhibition, will have high-profile experts such the founders of BananaMana Films and the award-winning sound designer behind The Apprentice sharing best practices and experiences in their line of work.

Visit BroadcastAsia2017 at Suntec Singapore, from May 23 to 25, 2017, to find out more how filmmakers are making use of new digital technologies to reach audiences.